Fresh & amp;amp; Tasty

CASUAL Seasonal Delights & r & & r & Now that we've had a taste of summery weather, the season of outdoor dining is about to begin in earnest. One of Spokane's favorite spots, the PARK BENCH in Manito Park, opens this weekend for the season and will be open all day, every day, from now until Labor Day. (After that, it depends on weather and demand.)

The building that houses the Park Bench was built in 1923 and originally served as a concession stand for visitors to the zoo that was then a chief attraction at Manito. Now it's a source for light meals like sandwiches, soups and salads, plus hand-dipped ice cream, espresso drinks and pastries from Rocket Bakery. And, in a nod to its historic past, the Park Bench always offers free treats for dogs.

The Park Bench in Manito Park is open daily,

May 24-Sept. 1, from 8 am-7 pm.

AWARDS Not Just For Tourists

Earlier this month, the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau handed out its 2008 Inland Northwest Tourism Awards, and four locally owned food-related businesses got the nod -- three of them in categories not specifically tied to food. The CHOCOLATE APOTHECARY in the Flour Mill won the In The Bag Award for offering a top shopping experience, while ARBOR CREST WINE CELLARS received the Near Nature Near Perfect Award, given for a tourism experience that "best demonstrates the ecological, cultural or historic assets of the region." It was the winery's second win in four years. DAVID'S PIZZA landed the Spirit of the Inland Northwest Award for innovation, and CHAPS on the Cheney-Spokane Road nabbed the Top Table Award in recognition of its "outstanding dining experience."

A healthy dining scene contributes to healthy tourism, and Spokane's food choices have certainly expanded in recent years. If we want to have a vibrant and distinctive community, then we have to support the vibrant and distinctive businesses and organizations in our midst. Kudos to all of the winners and nominees -- and to everyone in the community who has supported our burgeoning local food scene.

CAF & Eacute; Art on the Plate

Driving back to Spokane from Moscow a couple of weeks ago, I took the scenic route through the small (population about 1,000) town of Palouse, Wash., about 15 miles north of Pullman. Crossing the narrow bridge over the Palouse River, the cheerily painted walls of the 1889 Old Bank building at the edge of downtown caught my eye, as did the sign on the door announcing, "Organic." Turns out the building is home to the BANK LEFT GALLERY AND TEA ROOM, a delightful oasis at the west end of the two-block-long downtown. Nelson and Pamela Duran have owned the building since 2005; they took on the pre-existing gallery initially, and then opened the caf & eacute;/tea room in December 2007.

"I have wanted a tea room for almost 20 years," says Nelson. "We want to do mostly organic [food], mostly local. We want it to be a place where everybody is welcome. We want to challenge the stereotype of the tea room."

The gallery occupies the front of the 1889 building, and the tea room is tucked away in the back, overlooking the river. True to form, the shop offers about a dozen different teas, from black to green to herbal, along with a selection of light sandwiches and fresh-baked cakes and breads. The white cutwork table linens lend an air of Victorian formality, but that's offset by the vibrant primary colors of the ceramic-tiled floor and the exposed brick walls.

Nelson, a 2002 graduate of the architecture program at University of Idaho, first came to Palouse to show his paintings at the gallery, at the invitation of the previous owner. He sold out his paintings and began to rethink his career path. Now, as owner of the gallery, he features a different artist each month and carries the work of dozens of local and regional artists. The gallery hosts an opening reception on the first Saturday of each month, from 1-5 pm.

Back in the tea room, the coffee is imported from Honduras, Nelson's original home, and brews up rich and dark. It's the perfect complement to the Provencal dark chocolate cake ($5), baked in a mold and served warm with berries and real whipped cream. In addition to other cakes made onsite by Pamela, the display case holds scones and breads from Wheatberries in Moscow, croissants -- delivered daily from Le Panier in Seattle -- and handmade chocolate truffles from Snapdragon Catering right in Palouse. Light entr & eacute;es ($6.50-$7.50) include curried chicken with cashews on sourdough, a warm savory puff pastry, and the French Picnic -- baguette slices topped with Havarti, sage, red pepper and mango, and then broiled.

"People get surprised that we're here," says Nelson. People should think of the trip to Palouse as "an adventure," he says. "It's a kind of a journey."


The Bank Left Tea Room, 100 S. Bridge St., Palouse, Wash., is open Wed-Sat noon-6 pm,

Sun noon-4 pm. Call 509-878-1800 or 509-878-8425.

American Original: The Life and Work of John James Audubon @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Sept. 19
  • or